Democrats pushing to cancel college loans owe huge sums to student debt, records show

  • More than a dozen Democratic members of Congress who have backed student loan forgiveness have netted up to about $1.5 million combined in their own or a family member’s college debt, according to a review of financial disclosures from the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • The Biden administration is reportedly mulling a student loan debt forgiveness policy for millions of borrowers and it’s unclear whether income limits would be included.
  • “When members have these kinds of connections to the issues they directly advocate for, it leads citizens to question whether members are advocating for the public good or their own personal interests,” said Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic. Trust, a watchdog group aimed at enforcing ethics in government.

More than a dozen Democratic members of Congress who have urged President Joe Biden to forgive student loans have reported up to about $1 million in student loan debt, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review of financial disclosures. .

The 13 Democratic members, who average 46 years old, reported debts in 2021 and 2020. Individual debts range from as little as $15,000 to $300,000, for a combined total of up to about $1.5 million. dollars.

Lawmakers have all backed at least some degree of federal student loan forgiveness, a policy the Biden administration is reportedly considering. That includes New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who owes up to $50,000 and has repeatedly tweeted on the issue, as well as Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who owes up to $100,000 and called student debt forgiveness a “racial justice issue.”

New York Rep. Grace Meng, who along with other Democrats in March called on Biden to forgive student loans “to address issues of racial and economic equity,” revealed in 2021 that his wife owed until $250,000 in student debt.

The Biden administration may limit reversal for people who earned $150,000 in the previous year — or married couples filing jointly who earned less than $300,000 in the previous year — but it’s still unclear how the cancellation plan could be implemented. Members earn a base salary of $174,000 per year. (RELATED: Democratic Senate Candidate With Massive College Debt Backs Student Loan Forgiveness)

“When members have these kinds of connections to the issues they directly advocate for, it leads citizens to question whether members are advocating for the public good or their own personal interests,” said Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. , a watchdog group aimed at enforcing ethics in government, told DCNF.

Biden’s plan would waive a minimum of $10,000 per borrower. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the president to forgive $50,000 in debt, but Biden said in April he was “not considering” such a large amount.

Members who have supported debt forgiveness while declaring student loans for themselves include Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, California Rep. Jimmy Gomez and Nanette Barragan, Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle, Rep. Connecticut Jahana Hayes, Florida Rep. Darren Soto and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar.

Members who supported debt cancellation while reporting loans through a spouse or child in 2020 and 2021 include Meng, Escobar, California Rep. Salud Carbajal, Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams and Texas Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee.

Nine of the members declared debt through a federal agent, meaning the loans are sponsored by the federal government. It’s unclear to seven members whether their loans are federal or private because loan managers give out both types.

However, it is extremely likely that some of the Congressional debt listed by federal and private lending departments includes money tied to the Department of Education, given that more than 90% of all loans students are federal, according to two student loan industry experts who spoke to the DCNF.

“Almost any large balance loan today is very likely to be a federal loan given the unlimited borrowing the government allows in its PLUS loan program,” said Scott Buchanan, executive director of Student Loan Servicing Alliance. , the only trade group representing student loan officers nationwide. advocating for policymakers to improve borrower experiences and ensure best practices among service providers.

“So when you look at a sample of borrowers and you don’t know exactly what type of loan they have, you can bet with some certainty that almost all of them are federal student loans,” he said. he adds.

Another expert – a senior employee of a major student loan manager who was granted anonymity to speak candidly – ​​said with near 100% certainty that some of the Congressional debt reported by private managers would include loans federal. The employee said he would be shocked if a congressman or any other borrower took out thousands of strictly private loans, which usually have a higher interest rate.

“Also, borrowers with loans from the early 2000s could have FFELP loans, which are private but government backed, and are run by companies like Navient and Nelnet,” the employee said. “These loans may also ultimately be eligible for forgiveness – depending on the actions of the White House.”

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar reported up to $50,000 in student debt for herself in 2021 through Nelnet Loan Services. While the company handles private loans, nearly 90% of all Nelnet loans are federal, the company said in a 2021 report.

Omar led letters in 2021 and 2022 to Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona demanding action on student loan forgiveness. She called for the government to “abolish student loan debt” in 2020.

Similarly, Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams reported in 2021 that his wife had up to $250,000 in student loan debt through Navient and College Foundation — which handles both federal and private loans. She joined Omar in the 2021 letter and said in December of that year that the United States must “close the #wealthgap racial gap”.

“I don’t have the disclosure in front of me so I don’t know exactly what loans you’re talking about because I have a lot of loans and my husband has a lot of loans,” said Williams, who did not respond. to follow-up requests for comment that included a link to its financial disclosure, DCNF told. “I don’t have it in front of me. I’m in a car to take my son to karate.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the DCNF Biden loan cancellation plan was a “scam” and that Democratic members considered it “like an all-you-can-eat buffet”.

“From political appointees in the White House from Biden to Democratic members of Congress, men and women are lining up with outstretched palms to get a slice of the pie — even if it means laying down their debt on hard-working taxpayers,” said Foxx, who along with Kentucky Republican Representative James Comer asked the Office of Government Ethics in June to investigate possible conflicts of interest for White House staffers who may benefit from cancellation of debt.

Michigan Republican Rep. Lisa McClain, who also sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, told the DCNF that it appears members are “using their power” to write off debts and it “seems be a serious conflict of interest”.

The offices of other members who have supported student loan forgiveness and reported debt on financial disclosures did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Josh Hypes contributed to this story.

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